Almost since storytelling began, audiences have been enthralled by the dark side of human nature. In the world of modern entertainment, that fascination has often taken the shape of stories centering on organized crime and the criminal underworld in general. Film and television have been marked by several beloved takes on this particular subject matter, from The Godfather to The Sopranos. So some may wonder if there’s really any new ground to break with regards to mafia-set tales of honor, retaliation and family. Gomorrah proves that there is still dramatic potential in the world of organized crime as well as an opportunity to bring something surprisingly fresh to viewers.
Based on the book by Roberto Saviano, the Italian TV series debuted in 2014 to critical acclaim and quickly drew comparisons to American dramas like The Wire that take a similarly street-level look at crime and the society that supports it in many ways. The show — created by Saviano himself — has made such an impact, in fact, that its international television rights have since spread to more than 100 nations. Thanks to SundanceTV, Gomorrah is finally set to debut in the United States, even as plans for an American remake of the show move forward.
Set in the suburbs of Naples, the show focuses on the Savastano family — led by Don Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino) — and the power struggles the syndicate faces both internally and with competing families in their neighborhood. Maria Pia Calzone and Salvatore Esposito also play key roles in the show, as the wife and son/intended heir to the family business, respectively. However, perhaps the breakout star of Gomorrah is Marco D’Amore as up-and-coming gang member Ciro di Marzio, dubbed “The Immortal” due to his knack for surviving attacks on his life.
The ensemble cast of Gomorrah is solid across the board, but the complex tale the show weaves is the undisputed highlight here. Saviano’s novel was originally adapted into the well-received 2008 Matteo Garrone film, but just as series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer developed a deeper mythology out of an initial feature-length story, Gomorrah takes the source material and blows its long-term potential out by several degrees. The fact that the television incarnation is only loosely based on Saviano’s original text likely contributes to its ability to both surprise devoted fans and construct a sprawling backdrop from which story possibilities can naturally stem.
Gangsters and drug dealers alike are portrayed as alternatively despicable and sympathetic figures, and Saviano and his team go to great lengths to create fully realized individuals that viewers can emotionally connect to without condoning the violent actions they take to protect their way of life. It’s an epic story that has already taken key characters to some pretty insane place, and considering the enthusiastic response Gomorrah has received since its Italian debut two years ago, one can only imagine how far the creative team will go to see the Savastano family’s saga play out over subsequent seasons, the second of which debuted earlier this year overseas.
Though its title is likely intended to be a wry play on the Camorra criminal organization that is at its heart, Gomorrah just as strongly relates to the Biblical city that lends the show its name. After all, both Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed in the Old Testament by God because of their sinful ways, and in many respects, the twisted moral compass at play in Saviano’s story embodies a modern take on a society that is overrun by corruption and darkness. Gomorrah‘s vision of such a world is both compelling and horrifying, and audiences will likely be unable to look away.
Gomorrah demonstrates that the world of organized crime is as narratively rich as ever, bringing a decidedly modern spin to the genre that is distinctive from beloved predecessors like The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire.